I started my shift at 6:30am. I looked down the hall and saw a penguin-like creature waddling toward the coordinator’s office.
“Looks like I’ll be working with Kunt again,” I told myself. Her name was really Kunt.
Here’s the reality: you can’t avoid working with disagreeable people (you might be one of them). Here’s a typical disagreeable nurse: an older, obese woman who attempts to compensate for deficits by micromanaging/dominating others. Such women rub male nurses the wrong way because men are particularly sensitive to the dominance hierarchy. Our amygdalas start screaming if we sense disorder in the system. Cunts (such as Kunt) attempting to micromanage is interpreted as disorder.
Kunt saw me and immediately began delegating orders.
“Check the crash cart and do the quality check on the glucometer,” she droned.
“Fuck you, Kunt. Go make me a sandwich,” I almost said aloud.
Her cocky way of interacting with me was really getting under my skin. My amygdala was set off with full force. I spent the next 30 minutes imagining myself creating a second vagina in her throat with a knife.
As the day rolled on, she attempted to micromanage me even more, telling me to move a gurney according to her preference. When I guided a patient to the restroom, she barked at me to stay outside the restroom to wait for her. At this point, I was in full-on fighting mode. It took all the self-control I could muster to NOT choke her.
Finally, I confronted her during her break.
“Kunt, we need to talk,” I said.
“Don’t talk to me. I’m on my break.”
“First of all, I’m not your pussy-ass husband. You can talk down to that pussy all you want. But when you come to work, you will talk to me with respect.”
Kunt shuttered. I continued.
“Secondly, you need to stop trying to micromanage me. Don’t try to tell me how to handle gurneys or how to maneuver patients when they try to take a shit. I know how to do my job. Do you understand?”
“You’re new. I’m teaching you how to do things in our unit’s way.”
“No, fuck that. There’s more than one way to do nursing. I want you to back off and let me do my job my own way. You’re not my superior; you’re my coworker. When you’re in the coordinator’s office, I expect you to be there if I need your help. I don’t expect you to sit there and tell me how to do my job. Now go eat your pie, Kunt.”
Kunt finished her pie with trembling hands.
(Now is the time for you to pause and think about whether I handled this appropriately).
There are a couple of lessons. First, you should only have serious work conversations when you’re not feeling angry. In the example, I was clearly pissed. My dominating demeanor probably closed her off to my communication. Second, I was angry because I held the interpretation that Kunt was trying to dominate me. That is, my anger stemmed from my interpretation that she was going after me and trying to own me. In reality, Kunt treated all her coworkers in an extremely frank way. I, in turn, interpreted her frankness as aggressiveness and responded in kind.
The third lesson is that anger will make you say things that you will regret. For instance, during one of my fantasy sessions of hurting Kunt, a patient tried to make conversation with me.
“When will you take your career to another level?” she asked.
“At least I have a career. What do you have? A failing liver?” I responded.
Only an angry guy would say something like that, which was exactly what I was.
The key to preventing your anger from taking over your body is twofold. First, you need to commit yourself to NOT give the power to others to make you angry. Second, you need to realize that you will get pissed if you hold the interpretation that you were treated unfairly. That is to say, the only thing that can anger you is the self-created story that something unfair happened to you. That’s right: you’re actually pissing yourself off because of a story that you’re telling yourself.
For example, when my interactions with Kunt began, this is what my self-talk looked like:
“This bitch is trying to micromanage me again. I will show her who’s boss.” This self-talk induced me to fantasize about assailing her.
But if my self-talk was more effortful, I would have told this to myself:
“Kunt talks that way to everyone. I won’t take it personally.” This self-talk would have calmed me and allowed me to give up the interpretation that someone was treating me unrighteously.
Two different kinds of self-talk will lead to two different outcomes.
Dealing With Terrible Days
All that said, the way I deal with terrible days is through emotional dumping, which is getting all my unfiltered thoughts onto the written page. This is what the session looks like:
-I step into a room with no one in it and curse out loud.
-I go onto a computer, open my email, and draft a message outlining every single one of my thoughts with no reservation.
-I write for at least ten minutes, pouring myself through the written word. I use curse words, threats, and egocentric thoughts.
-Before I step out of the hospital, I make a commitment to NOT think about my coworkers/job.
-I take a shit and leave the hospital.
I’d recommend the emotional dumping strategy over self-destructive ones, such as using alcohol, sex, or drugs. Emotional dumping helps clear your mind and calm you down.
So what do you do if your anger is so great that none of the above strategies work?
As a nurse, you may find yourself spending an entire shift thinking about killing/hurting particular coworkers. You may then spend your entire commute thinking about showing up their homes and slitting their kids’ throats. Yes, there are times where you will get that angry on the job. The only strategy to deal with this type of anger is to stem the thoughts from taking over. Commit yourself to not going where the anger takes you. When something angers you, all you have to do is NOT follow the impulse of fantasizing of hurting the antagonizer.
For example, if a coworker offends me, I sense a physiological response. My body prepares itself for a fight. But if I catch the anger’s feeling and draw my attention to my favorite porn scene, I take away my anger’s ability to draw all my attention. I’m successful in curbing my anger because I refuse to feed my anger’s downward spiral. Because I automatically think of my favorite porn scene with the actress’ tits bouncing up and down, I give less power to my angry feelings. The angry feelings then dissipate over time as I continually focus on my favorite porn scene.